"The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Message," New Orleans (LA) Picayune, April 3, 1850, p. 2.
New Orleans (LA) Picayune
The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Message
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Message.
Governor Johnson, of Pennsylvania, has written a special message on the slavery question to the Legislature of the State. Its general character is described on another page. The occasion assigned for this proceeding is the reception of the Georgia and Virginia legislative resolutions on the subject of the slave restriction in the territories, the restoration of fugitive slaves, &c. But the press of his own State impute another motive, not so frankly expressed. A bill was pending before the Legislature repealing certain portions of the State laws, which impose fine and imprisonment upon citizens of the State for giving aid to slave owners in the recapture of fugitives; and it is alleged that the Governor’s message was designed to defeat the passage of the bill.
The message is an elaborate reply to the positions of the Southern Legislatures. Its principal aim is to maintain that the constitution was intended by its framers to be an anti-slavery instrument, contemplating the extinction of slavery within the States, and containing the power and the obligation to prohibit its extension, or existence, in all the territories of the common government. The friends of the Governor extol it as a masterly and convincing production. This strong commendation induce us to look into it, and we discovered that this “bold and truthful” vindication of Northern doctrines, as the Philadelphia News calls it, does not understand but repeatedly misstates the nature and effect of such notable public acts as the ordinance of 1787 by a bold assumption that it was a general law of Congress abolishing slavery universally – as the settled policy of the Government – in the territories. He recites its adoption by the Congress of the confederation, and adds:
There is no excepting or saving clause; no line of compromise or designation of degrees latitude to limit the area of freedom, but an entire, absolute, and unconditional prohibition of the institution in all the territories then under the jurisdiction of the Congress.
Thus representing it as a universal law of Congress, intending abolition in all the territories, he alleges that it made the inducement by which Pennsylvania consented to the federal constitution subsequently made. Otherwise, he thinks, Pennsylvania would have kept out of the Union! This is a very strained inference from a very disingenuous statement of facts. The ordinance of 1787 was not a general but a partial law, and not so much a law as in the nature of particular compact with Virginia. It did designate, if not “degrees of latitude,” at least fixed geographical boundaries within which it should operate, to wit: “the territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio.” As for the exclusive obligation of the ordinance, it may be unknown to Gov. Johnson, but is nevertheless a face, that slavery did continue to exist and was protected by the law, within that territory, notwithstanding the ordinance, to such an extent that when Illinois became a State, in 1806, her constitution made a new provision for abolishing slavery, and so far recognized the fact of the existence of slavery at the time as to provide for the emancipation of slaves. Gov. Johnson thus mistakes the nature and tenor of the ordinance, and widely misstates its effect.
He makes a blunder just as palpable in relation to the Missouri struggle of 1820. He protests against the compromise act as a concession by the North of “the introduction of servile labor” into that region, and reproves its authors for the “erection of further slave institutions” thereby. The truth is, that slavery existed as a fact in the whole inhabited region of the Louisiana purchase, and the Missouri controversy was not on the part of the South for the “extension of servile labor,” or the “erection of further slave institutions,” but on the part of the North, for the abolition of slavery where it had existed for years, under the territorial form of government framed by Congress; and for a compulsory direction to a new State to make an anti-slavery constitution. When we notice such disingenuous dealings with the best known facts in political history, we may admit the “boldness” of Gov Johnson’s appeal to the anti-slavery feelings of hi- State, but are compelled to dissent altogether from the praise of its “truthfulness.” It has more of the characteristics of a sharp lawyer, defending his case, without conscience, than the frankness of a statesman seeking for the truth on a grave publication.
It is likely that it succeeded in its principal purpose. The fugitive slave bill has been passed over in the Legislature, and will probably be never brought up again.